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15 March 2016

Why Bowie predicted the right kind of native



What a genius David Bowie was. Not only was he arguably one of the most original and creative songwriters, musicians and performers, it turns out he was an incredible media futurologist.

One of the most fascinating recent TV tributes was his interview with Jeremy Paxman back in 1999. It’s the one where he predicts the internet. Another of his predictions from the same interview, which has yet to be picked up on, relates to the future of online content. Bowie tells Paxman that it won’t be a case of driving the audience to content, but rather creating the content to suit the audience.

Essentially what Bowie means here is personalisation, which is suddenly a hot marketing topic. From a content perspective, he pretty much predicted native, which is supposed to be the placing of journalistically driven – rather than sales led – branded content within editorial to interest and engage readers. Sadly this isn’t the reality of native.

One part of the problem is the fact that agencies and brands seem to have forgotten the bit about editorially-led content, and take the easy option of placing advertising messages. This is not only ineffective, but also actually annoys readers, hence the introduction of native standards last year both in the US and the UK.

Blinded by the pound signs, publishers appear to be ignoring this practice, but it’s a short-sighted strategy; if it continues it will not only kill native and the associated revenue, but also lose them readers.

There is also another practice reducing the effectiveness of native, increasing the mystery surrounding the discipline and damaging brands’ trust in it, rather than consumers’, which is, of course, just as dangerous. It involves driving content at third-party audiences, rather than the actual online readers of a publication.

Rather than carefully considering the branded content they place alongside editorial, major publishers are simply bringing in agencies to drive a third-party audience at the content. This means they are benefitting from the branded content revenue, yet the brand is not reaching the audience it thought it was targeting.

This indicates that the branded content couldn’t have been considered much value to the publications’ actual readership. This practice indicates that once again publishers are putting revenue ahead of running branded content that adds value to the reader experience as well as the publication itself. It also looks like it could be another nail in native’s coffin should it continue.

If nothing else, transparency of audience is key from an ethical perspective. When we are looking at partnerships between content partners and brands we need to be able to ensure that it is actually the readers of a publication consuming the content that is being written on behalf of a brand – and we should be looking to expose those partnerships that don’t. We should be looking for transparency in terms of what percentage of an audience are true readers of that title.

If publishers take on board Bowie’s view of the future involving driving content to a relevant audience they will instead breathe life back into native rather than sign its death warrant, and set up a long-term symbiotic relationship that adds value to the reader, increases audience engagement for the brand, and, of course, drives revenue for the publication.

By agency, brand and publisher working more closely together to develop branded content relevant to specific editorial and its readership, the current growing cycle of distrust will be broken and both consumer and brand confidence in native will grow.

However, the rebirth of native shouldn’t stop there. This holy trinity should work together to target the branded content even harder, by not only placing it by relevance of editorial and audience, but also in terms of the timing of its appearance to maximise its exposure – and therefore engagement level.

And there is now programmatic technology out there specifically focused on content marketing, matching key user and publication data to detailed intelligence drawn from the branded content to place it in front of the right audience in the right place at the right time. This shifts the focus on native from being another marketing channel to a method of effective distribution of branded content. It should increase transparency and add value to all parties, from agency and publishers to brands and consumers. 

By Lucy Hemming, Chief Business Development Officer, Avid Media


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